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Meet the Powerful and Innovative Women Behind the Tippi Toes Franchise

Sarah Nuse, who started the traveling dance-lesson company back in 1999, and her sister Megan Reilly, Chief Operating Officer, reveal how the brand began.

By Katie Porter1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 8:08AM 06/22/22

For sisters Sarah Nuse and Megan Reilly, dance has always been at the center of their lives. Growing up, their mom worked as an instructor at a local dance studio, and performing was “in their blood,” Sarah explained.

That inspired a young Sarah to teach her own classes for kids in the neighborhood when she was 12. She would clear out the dining room furniture, make squares on the floor with masking tape and invite children to come learn for a few hours each day. It brought in a little bit of cash, and they would hold shows for the neighbors. Sarah loved it, and started doing it every summer with the help of her friend Caroline and her sisters Megan and Jennie. In middle and high school, she also began assisting teachers at the studio where her mom worked. 

When Sarah went off to college at the University of Oklahoma, she put dancing on pause and picked up a waitressing job to pay the bills. But one day after being fired and needing a few hundred dollars to come up with a car payment, she called her parents in a panic. Her mother suggested she use her passion for dance and teach children at local daycare centers.

“I walked into a local daycare without a flier or even really a plan. They started peppering me with questions that I had to just come up with answers on the fly, like ‘What's your cost? How long are the classes? What is the name of your business?’” said Nuse. “And at that point, it was not a business; it was just an idea. But I said clear as day, ‘Tippi Toes.’ Then she said, ‘We would love to have Tippi Toes at our facility. Can you start next week?’”

The brand has grown immensely since Sarah started teaching out of daycares with children signing up for $20 a month. The centers that hired her referred her to other locations, and quickly she started to scale. Within a year she had 200 little dancers, and her husband would cheer her on and fill in a chart with every new sign up. When her younger sister Megan came to college, she began helping out with a team of girls. 

“It was working really well. And so that's when we decided to hire some managers in these places and have multiple locations going at one time. And I think it was at that point I thought, ‘I feel like we can do something really special with this,’” said Nuse.

That was back in 1999. Fast forward to today, and Tippi Toes has 32 locations and serves over 8,000 students in the United States. The brand also sold rights to a franchise in China, where there are five Tippi Toes studios. 

Reilly later transferred to a school in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She took the business there with her, and later to Cincinnati in 2007, where she moved after graduating and starting a family. Their older sister Jennie is now a franchisee that owns a location in Cincinnati and a territory in Nashville as well. 

“It became my part-time gig, and I just continued to build the brand and spread it wherever I went, and Sarah did the same,” said Megan, who now acts as chief operating officer. At this point, we were kind of all over the country and so it just really organically grew from there.”

When Reilly went to Cincinnati, she expanded the brand’s clientele to also include YMCA locations and gyms like Lifetime Fitness. “That was further confirmation of the flexibility of our program. We can meet kids wherever they are and do Tippi Toes anywhere that families gather,” said Reilly. “And that came in handy when the coronavirus hit, because we adapted to dancing in backyards and in neighborhoods. We have been able to show our franchise owners a lot of different ways to thrive.”

Now, all Tippi Toes locations are franchise-owned. Sarah acts as a visionary and Megan manages the day-to-day operations, helping franchisees run a successful operation. 

“What brings me the greatest amount of joy is giving women the tools to be able to make this business work. Because I learned a lot in my early years and being able to navigate that and giving them the tools has been really huge,” said Nuse. “I'm so proud of our franchise owners. They do a really excellent job representing my brand. It’s a continuous journey and one that I’m grateful I get to lead.” 

Now the women are focused on keeping Tippi Toes strong post-pandemic. They are dedicated to helping franchisees continue to reach children and teach them not only dance, but to have confidence in themselves. That has been one of the most rewarding parts of the business and remains a core value as the brand continues in the future.

“Growing up, my dance teacher was a light in my life. It’s really special the impact that she had on me, and she gave me hope to know that I could have that impact on other people. And that’s really the driving force behind Tippi Toes: allowing kids to know that they are strong and courageous and there's nothing that they can't do. I really hope that we can give them the best 45 minutes of their whole week.”

The startup costs to open a Tippi Toes Dance Company franchise range from $52,100 to $69,100, including a $35,000 franchise fee. For more information, visit